By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
The Uvalde school shooting and other similar events have made it crucial to speak with our children about the dangers that exist in our society. Crimes against children are evolving due to technology like the internet and the actions of criminals. As a result, parents should discuss the potential dangers that exist in society with their children and what should be done to mitigate these risks.
The Internet: One of the Biggest Hazards to Children’s Safety
One of the biggest hazards for children is the internet. Children and teenagers commonly use social media, online gaming sites, and other areas of the internet where they may be contact with strangers.
It should come as no surprise that criminals use the Internet to target children and teenagers. For instance, the Internet is a common tool for sex traffickers to target children. These criminals typically exploit vulnerabilities such as a lack of privacy settings on social media accounts and a lack of parental supervision of children’s online activities.
Children who communicate with adult strangers – who often pose as the child’s peer – in chat rooms and on game sites are highly vulnerable. For instance, they can be groomed and lured to real-world meetings with sex traffickers.
Parents must educate themselves on the dangers of the internet for children and teach their kids how to avoid the Internet’s hazards. In addition to sex trafficking, kids who use the internet are at risk of cyberbullying and identity theft, and they may be exposed to offensive images such as pornography. Enabling parental controls can also be helpful in protecting children using the internet.
School Shootings Pose Another Risk for Children
Unfortunately, children may also be at risk in their own schools. In fact, 27 school shootings have occurred so far this year.
Ideally, parents should take some time to discuss the risk of violent incidents such as school shootings. Both parents and teachers should provide guidance in what to do if such an event unfolds while a child is at school or if the child hears about such incidents from news sources.
In addition, children should be encouraged to report to parents and teachers any time they hear or see anything suspicious. For instance, if children observe indicators on social media that someone may be planning an attack such as a school shooting, that should be reported to an adult.
Early reporting of a potential threat is vital. In four out of five school shootings, at least one person was aware of the attacker’s plan but did not report it. Early reporting can play a large role in mitigating or preventing school shootings.
Parents Should Create a Communication Plan for Their Children
Developing a communication plan prior to an emergency is also helpful. For instance, children should be taught at a young age how to call 911.
Many parents provide smartphones to their kids to allow child to remain in touch with them. These phones not only enable children to contact their parents during or after an emergency – at school or elsewhere – but also have the additional advantage of allowing the child’s location to be quickly determined through a phone location app. Knowing a child’s whereabouts is vital if a child goes missing or is involved in an emergency.
We Live in Dangerous Times, but Educating Children about Dangers Can Be Helpful
We live in dangerous times, but proactively educating children about the dangers in our society can reduce the possibility that those children will become victims. While children shouldn’t be taught to live in fear, they will need to have a knowledge of the dangers that exist in society and how to react if an emergency occurs.